Sixteen months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and more than a year after the US reached the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths globally, consumers are grappling with a mix of conflicting emotions. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s relaxation of restrictions, the biggest vaccine campaign in history underway, and around 20% of the global population and close to half of the US population vaccinated, consumers are eager to return to the experiences they’ve desperately missed. Still, the threat of COVID-19 variants and the persistent fear that lingers in the aftertaste of a year of depression and deprivation cause consumers to pull back. Here, we examine our latest data from Forrester’s June 2021 Consumer Energy Index And Retail Pulse Survey in relation to our pulse of data from Forrester’s Consumer Energy Index Survey, US Consumers, May 2020, to analyze how consumers’ pandemic recovery outlook has evolved. Compared to this time last year, consumers are now:

  • More convinced that COVID-19 will negatively affect them in the long term. Since the initial reports of rising COVID-19 case counts in early 2020, consumers have been processing the COVID-19 pandemic and gradually coming to terms with what the crisis means for them. In late May 2020, 63% of US online adults recognized that the COVID-19 pandemic would have a long-lasting negative impact on their quality of life; as of early June 2021, 72% agree. The number of consumers who believe they were buffered by shocks of the pandemic dropped from 27% in May 2020 to 9% in June 2021.
  • Just as uncertain about their financial future. In May 2020, 47% of US consumers felt they were financially prepared to handle the economic fallout of the pandemic; in June 2021, just 41% say the same. Slowly falling unemployment rates still don’t match pre-pandemic levels, and hypersensitivity to the financial risks of another wave of crises is driving consumers to preemptively save. As one ConsumerVoices Market Research Online Community member says, “I’m trying to be better about savings. We didn’t have to dig in too much yet, luckily, but I’m trying to learn how to save and invest more so we don’t have to take a hit during other such volatile times.”
  • Relatively less afraid of the spread of the coronavirus — but still guarded. Threats to their physical health have been holding consumers back from reengaging in their favorite experiences. Now, those perceived risks are beginning to fade: In May 2020, 60% of US online adults reported that they were afraid that they or someone they know would be afflicted by COVID-19; as of June 2021, 45% share the sentiment. While the fear of getting sick is becoming less intense, the consumer psyche is still fragile — news about coronavirus variants, uncertainty about the effects of reopening, and a lack of trust in vaccination compliance compel some consumers to maintain safety protocols. As of June 2021, 58% of US consumers report wearing a mask in public, and 55% say they engage in social distancing.


About Forrester’s consumer pandemic recovery outlook series

Any company’s first step in accelerating through the COVID-19 pandemic and building a profitable, sustainable future is to establish a laser-sharp focus on consumers — how their attitudes, expectations, and behaviors are changing and why. Our consumer pandemic recovery outlook blog series provides snapshots of US consumers’ current mindset and evaluates which behaviors they are likely to embrace — and pull away from — over the next 12 to 18 months. Follow my blog to find Forrester’s latest thinking, or read my latest research. As always, I look forward to discussing your questions and ideas via a Forrester inquiry.